Democratic candidate for U.S. House (5th district)
Responses to our questions
The U.S. government is now $20 trillion in debt. To address that historic level of public indebtedness, the country would need to raise revenue and/or decrease spending. What is your position on the budget and debt?
This year, the US Treasury Department reported that the federal budget deficit for the 2017 fiscal year rose by $80 billion to $666 billion. Under President Trump, our budget deficits will increase by an average of $220 billion between 2018 and 2027, with a projected annual deficit of around $940 billion. The danger we face under this administration and a Republican Congress is that Republicans will argue that we must balance the budget by cutting critical human services programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, food stamps, and other critical programs that millions of Americans rely upon just to survive.
Mike Quigley has voiced the same "deficit hawk" rhetoric and pushed for tax cuts and cutting social programs and voted against progressives and Democrats. We cannot afford to have a Democrat that supports the GOP agenda. We must also address the growing income gap between the top 1% and the rest of Americans, which is why we need progressive Democrats in office who aren't beholden to wealthy and corporate donors, and are willing to make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share in taxes.
Because we've failed to stand up to the wealthy and corporate donors, the United States loses an estimated $100 billion in tax revenues due to practices like offshore tax abuse. Both for our economy and our environment, we need to end the big tax breaks that oil, gas, and coal companies currently benefit from, and not only move the green energy movement forward, so we can decarbonize our energy sources, but also reduce our federal deficit.
If we end these tax breaks that energy companies currently benefit from, we can look to decrease the deficit by over $100 billion over the next decade. We also need to protect our human services programs like Social Security by removing the cap on taxable income so that those that earn more, pay more into the Social Security system. Currently, the taxable-maximum amount for 2018, based on wage data, is $128,400.
The wealthiest Americans therefore pay a small amount of income into Social Security, and this ultimately has put the program at great risk of being completely underfunded for this and future generations. Cost of living adjustments (COLA) must also be protected especially for senior citizens.
Unlike my opponent, Rep. Quigley, who voted against a budget bill that gives seniors more generous COLA adjustments, and who has yet to sponsor HR 1114, which expands Social Security benefits to help seniors retire with dignity, I will work to ensure COLA is expanded and protected for our seniors, particularly lifetime low-wage earners, and senior women, who are most vulnerable in facing the rising cost of living in America. Americans need a tax system that is fair and progressive and benefits all Americans, especially those that are struggling the most.
If I'm elected, I will stand up to corporate donors, lobbyists, and the wealthy and demand that we pass a progressive tax plan that works for every American.
Can you identify any major federal expenditures or programs that you would eliminate?
The majority of our discretionary budget goes towards defense spending, and we base our defense spending on sustaining Cold War era programs that are no longer needed to fight in today's battlefields. The 2018 defense budget, which my opponent Rep. Quigley voted for, and was signed into law by the President authorizes $700 billion in defense spending, which is $26.1 billion more than President Trump requested.
The huge increase over even what the President requested suggests to the American people that government oversight in cutting expenditures and curbing wasteful spending is no longer a priority for Congress, if it means fighting the defense hawks that are currently serving in Congress. My opponent Rep. Quigley, who calls himself "more of a hawk," has taken campaign donations from defense corporations, so it is no surprise that he continues to vote for overblown defense bills that weren't supported by other Democrats and progressives in the House and Senate.
To curb defense spending, we need to first stop increasing funding for programs that no longer need it, like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) program. The F-35 program is the most expensive weapons program in U.S. History, costing $1.5 trillion for 2,440 planes. A Congressional Budget Office study showed that we can save the American taxpayers and the Department of Defense $48 billion over 10 years by cancelling the F-35 program.
While I support the changes in modernization to our IT infrastructure in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, I do not support billing the American people excess money to pay for defense programs we don't need. To achieve lasting peace in the world, and really focus on putting America first, let's first look at cutting defense spending and use that money instead to fund vital human services programs and foreign aid and development programs that help lift up people around the world.
Medicare and Medicaid costs continue to spiral. How can these programs be restructured to control costs and avoid collapse? Be specific about your willingness to change or reduce future benefits.
Medicare and Medicaid are essential programs to maintain the quality of life for some of our most vulnerable citizens. We cannot afford to let these programs undergo drastic cuts under the Trump administration, and we need to fight to not only maintain the current funding for these programs, but expand these programs.
As a former manager at a Title X-funded Planned Parenthood clinic, I've seen firsthand the impact of people having access to federally-funded health services. My goal, if elected, is to create an equitable, single-payer system in Medicare for All, that provides truly universal and affordable health coverage for all Americans, no matter their economic status.
According to Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), 31% of U.S. health spending is allocated to administrative costs. The Medicare for All bills introduced in Congress (HR 676, S 1804), will save U.S. taxpayers anywhere from $400-$600 billion, if enacted.
Mike Quigley does not support HR 676 and has sided with his insurance PAC donors instead of supporting a solution in Medicare for All that would completely eliminate our current dependency on health insurers providing fair and equitable healthcare to all Americans. If elected, I would push for the federal government to permanently cover the full cost of Medicaid expansion.
Currently, Medicare is struggling to survive due to insufficient funding and an inequitable regressive tax structure that favors the wealthy and corporations. Under Medicare for All, the increases in taxes for employers and employees would be offset by the savings most would get by not having to pay premiums, with more money going to fund healthcare instead of administrative costs.
Wealthier individuals that earn more, would also have to pay more into the system, using a progressive income tax structure. Capital gains and dividend taxes would also be taxed in the same way as income from your primary job. The current system benefits the wealthy, as most of their income comes from capital gains and dividends, and taxed at a lower rate than their earned income is taxed.
By enacting these changes, we will no longer be restricted by health insurance companies and their excessive administrative costs, and can truly push America's healthcare into the 21st century.
What if anything should be the federal government's role in helping Americans obtain health insurance coverage?
Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. As a former manager at a federally-funded clinic, I firmly believe in creating a fair and equitable healthcare system for all Americans and more and more Americans agree with me. We've seen support for the Affordable Care Act rise every year since it has been enacted, as more individuals rely on the ACA to provide them access to universal and affordable health insurance coverage. I believe the federal government has a role in helping all Americans find health care that works for them.
That is why I support Medicare for All, unlike my opponent, and will work to ensure that the ACA is protected until Medicare for All passes if I'm elected to Congress. Our healthcare has been controlled for too long by health insurance and pharmaceutical companies who put profits over people. By expanding programs like Medicare, we can cut our dependency on health insurance companies once and for all and give Americans the freedom over their own healthcare.
Economic growth has been steady but wage growth is slow. Are you content with the state of the economy? What is your recipe for enhancing American prosperity?
My father came here to pursue the American Dream after growing up in a one-room house in India, where he sometimes went to sleep hungry. From this very modest beginning, he traveled here to study engineering, where he joined a class of professionals in high demand in a booming American economy.
Due to the hard work and education of both my parents, I grew up in a middle-class home with access to good schools. After college, however, the recession and stagnating wages meant that I spent the first 12 years of my career struggling to make a living wage as a healthcare worker, working jobs where I got paid less than my peers, and getting laid off after a corporate restructuring. My experience of unemployment, underemployment, and wage inequity is unfortunately all too common and many Americans also have student loan and credit card debt to shoulder, which makes their financial futures even more fragile.
I want every American to have the ability to pursue the American Dream that seems to be slipping away. For too many of us, it seems like we are just surviving to make ends meet, and that we can't save up for a rainy day, to get an education, or even see the doctor. The income and wealth gap in the United States is unlike any income and wealth gap seen in any country around the developed world. Over the last twenty-five years, only the most affluent families in America have added to their overall net worth. The middle class and lower middle class haven't seen any rise in overall net worth since that time.
It is no wonder then, that we are seeing rising anger and frustration from Americans, because they know that the American economy hasn't been working for them for decades. That's why I support initiatives like a living wage, fighting for equal pay for equal work, and demanding that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes. Mike Quigley has pushed for tax cuts and financial deregulation and resisted supporting a living wage until he knew it would not pass.
In order for our economy to work for every American, we need representatives in Congress willing to stand up to wealthy donors and corporations to make sure they are paying more to lift up and support those that are still struggling. The framers of the Constitution intended for our government to "promote the general Welfare," so it is incumbent upon our leaders in Congress to ensure the welfare of all Americans.
If you could fix longstanding problems with this country's immigration system tomorrow, what would you do? What is your position on the future of DACA and the Dreamers?
First and foremost, we need to pass a clean DREAM Act, one that doesn't have any additional border security provisions attached, and simply protects those who are at greatest risk of deportation under this administration's orders. We also need to expand DACA and DAPA, to protect everyone in immigrant families, and keep families together.
We must also account for the 11 million undocumented individuals not covered by the DREAM Act. They are part of the fabric of our country. They want to be here and contribute, so let's provide them with a path to citizenship. We also need to protect funding for sanctuary cities.
Our deportation and detention system needs tighter regulation and oversight. Currently, our detention centers are inhumane, and mostly run by for-profit companies. We need to dismantle inhumane detention centers and end for-profit detention centers. We also need to create an independent oversight commission for detention centers that would ensure that human rights of all immigrants are being protected.
Following human rights protocols, we should also ban the separation of families at borders. Currently, small children as young as a year old, are being separated from their parent. I cannot imagine the fear and isolation these children feel, and it is against our American ideals and values to rip families apart. I would also ask Congress to review the ICE deportation process, and ask for a full halt of ICE deportations until further review of the immigration system is completed.
The ever changing whims of the current administration mean that ICE is operating in an independent way with little to no oversight, stepping into churches, hospitals, and other safe spaces to pull unsuspecting people away from their families. These practices must be reviewed and the rights of immigrants and their families must be upheld. Immigrants encountered by ICE and DHS must also have access to the criminal justice system and be given due process.
While Quigley has generally been a good advocate on immigration, he has not lent his support to any of these bills: more accountability for border patrol (HR 1608), keeping ICE from seizing people at sensitive locations like schools (HR 1815), and giving deported veterans a chance to reenter the US legally (HR 1405).
North Korea's nuclear weapons program represents a direct threat to the security of the United States and its Pacific allies. How should the U.S. confront or contain Kim Jong Un's regime?
Like most Americans, I believe that military action must only be taken after diplomatic action and economic sanctions have been utilized in dealing with foreign conflict. We cannot put our troops in harm's way simply because we refuse to commit to the arduous work of diplomacy and geopolitical coalition building. Instead of engaging in dangerous rhetoric with North Korea, President Trump should first reach out to our allies around the world and work to build a coalition of nations that will help to enact sanctions. The US policy of "strategic patience" obviously hasn't worked to undermine North Korea's ability to create and deploy long range missiles, but President Trump's dangerous rhetoric only inflames an already tense situation that will send our troops straight to war.
We must first use diplomacy but under President Trump, our State Department has seen a drastic reduction in the number of diplomatic and foreign officers, and this greatly impacts our ability to counter the threats we face using the tools of negotiation and diplomacy. In order to prevent escalation to military conflict, we must first support and engage in smart power with our allies around the world. We could also increase our presence in the region to try and halt the receipt of any shipments that would help further North Korea's weapons program. To have a coalition of troops for this effort would mean that the world agrees on the seriousness of the threat, and that the world is working together to stop it. Any option that we put forward should not involve the US acting alone. To do so would only put our troops at greater risk.
ISIS is contained in Syria and Iraq but terrorism remains a threat. What are your priorities in keeping the country safe?
The threats of terrorism at home will rise under President Trump, as long as his administration continues the divisive rhetoric that only works to embolden terrorists, and continues pushing the bans on refugees and immigrants. These actions play right into the rhetoric that groups like ISIS use to convince their supporters that the United States doesn't support or protect Muslims. Congress must become a stronger voice against the President and speak out against his regressive actions so that the world knows that America still stands by its ideals, even if our current leadership does not reflect the ideals our country was founded upon.
To truly reduce the threat of terrorism, we must support the important work of our intelligence agencies while also protecting innocent Americans from mass surveillance. The work our intelligence agencies do to gather information on potential threats is critical to our ability to protect our country, but it should never come at the cost of the privacy of our citizens.
America must also regain its position in the world as a human rights leader by working to close Guantanamo. Human rights organizations and even the former president knew that closing Guantanamo was in our national security interests. When the United States holds people indefinitely without due process, force-feeds hunger strikers, and tortures prisoners in the name of protecting our freedom, we no longer have the ability to call out human rights abuses in other countries around the world, as we undermine our American ideals right here at home.
We must also restructure our foreign aid package to help lift up the most impoverished people around the world, help to build schools, find solutions to water and food shortages, and rebuild critical infrastructure often destroyed by US military action. For every bomb that we drop, and every drone strike we use to take out suspected terrorists, we could help lift up those that are being oppressed by ISIS and other extremist regimes.
The very real and growing threat of white supremacy and hate groups in America that have committed violent acts, especially in the last year, must also be addressed. Attacks and deaths by these groups have exceeded the number of attacks by agents of foreign terrorist groups. If we are to truly address terrorism, we cannot be silent and must respond strongly to the attacks committed by white Americans in the name of white supremacy. To do so would put our democracy in great danger and the American people at risk.
Should the U.S. continue to abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran?
The landmark Iran nuclear deal came as a result of strong and determined diplomatic efforts, combined with a progressive foreign policy approach that we need to maintain in this new political era. Congress must work to ensure that the terms of the Iran nuclear deal are met, and the US and other JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal agreement) signatories must continue to monitor and assess Iran's compliance with the deal. This is of vital importance especially now as we watch the current protests in Iran take place. Protests that our administration seems to agree with, but the reasons these protests are happening seem to be out of reach of this administration's understanding.
When the Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2016, the economic sanctions imposed on Iran were lifted and Iran's economy began to grow quite significantly, and GDP grew by 12.3%. The International Monetary Fund has said that the growth was originally seen in the oil and gas sectors and has now begun to spread to other sectors, and predicted that GDP in Iran would increase by 4.2% next year.
Unfortunately, President Trump's refusal to recertify the nuclear deal, and his request to Congress to restore sanctions against Iran, threatens destabilizing the hard diplomatic work that paved the way for the Iran nuclear deal. The United States must stand by its word and recertify the deal, and Congress must stop any effort to impose new sanctions on Iran as long as Iran continues to meet the terms of deal. The stability of the Middle East and our allies are counting on the leadership of the United States to ensure that the deal remains in place, and that its terms are executed fully. We must not falter, and we must continue to use diplomacy as our strongest weapon in this fight.
What is your position on the continued presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?
We need to put an end to "endless wars." We are simply funding the military industrial complex and the world is not safer as a result. I would have voted against the National Defense Authorization Act, which gave Trump more than he requested. Quigley voted with the GOP and the conservatives, and accepts donations from the PACs for defense giants, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. After years of military intervention, the U.S. has contributed to the destabilization of the region. The Trump administration's lack of foreign policy leadership and volatility will make a bad situation worse. Congress should be putting the brakes on military actions and funding, and has failed to act as a check on executive power in recent years.
Do you support a unified, federal background check system for gun sales? Do you support magazine limits or a ban on certain rifles? Describe, briefly, your position on how to balance safety with the Second Amendment.
In 2017, we witnessed some of the most tragic and heartbreaking attacks that we know could have been prevented with stricter gun laws in place. We must do what we know is morally right and stand up to the gun lobby once and for all. A majority of voters agree, according to an April 2017 poll by the Pew Center, where respondents aligned with both parties supported a ban on the sale of assault weapons, requiring background checks on all gun sales, and the creation of a federal gun registry.
I support common sense gun reforms that would not only ensure that Second Amendment rights are protected, but that the lives of our citizens and residents are protected as well. The single most important action that Congress can take to curb gun violence is to make sure that guns are never sold to individuals who are convicted on domestic violence or other violent charges. There is a clear link between the individuals that have committed the most horrific acts of violent gun crimes and domestic violence or other violent charges. Once someone has attacked the rights of even a single individual, that person should not be allowed to possess a weapon that could kill any individual. To enforce this change, Congress would have to work to require criminal background checks for all gun sales. There are still too many guns that are sold without background checks being run on those sales.
I would push for a ban on the sale of military style assault weapons and bump stocks. Bump stocks and any other enhancements that can be made to increase the firing speed of a weapon have no place in our cities or towns. There is no reason for a civilian to possess a military-style weapon or a modified weapon meant to fire like a military-style weapon. What happened in Las Vegas could have been prevented, but Congress has failed time and time again to stand up to the NRA.
Should the U.S. government take steps to curb emissions of greenhouse gas? If so, what steps? If not, why not?
Climate change is one of the greatest threats the world faces today, and it is within the national security interests of the United States to aggressively address this issue head on. We must work to follow the plan set by the Paris Climate Accord, decarbonize our energy supplies, and increase energy efficiency of our transportation and building infrastructure.
Working towards a carbon neutral or decarbonized energy state includes implementing stricter efficiency regulations on cars, trucks, and transportation, reducing coal usage, increase renewable energy use, and implementing new energy storage mechanisms that can collect and transfer energy during surge conditions across the grid. All of these changes would require drastic improvements to our aging energy infrastructure in order to increase our ability to store energy along the grid. We must also work to remove tax subsidies that oil and gas companies have enjoyed for far too long, and reinvest in clean energy.
I would join progressive leaders like Jan Schakowsky in co-sponsoring and will vote for HR 3671 OFF Act (Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act), the strongest climate legislation ever introduced in Congress, and not co-sponsored by Quigley. The OFF Act calls for a complete decarbonization of our energy sources by 2035, with all energy produced coming from renewable sources. The Act also calls for a complete moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, and a push towards 100% zero-emissions car sales by 2035. I strongly believe that we must act in the strongest way now in order to protect the planet from further damage and preserve it for future generations.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
Growing up, I had notebooks where I would jot down my poems and unique phrases, and then began to write poetry formally in college. While I left the creative world after school, I would journal and have bursts of creativity. When a class in sketch writing didn't hold my interest, a friend suggested an all-women's stand-up class. My "graduation" was me standing on a stage, trembling and looking down at my notes to avoid the stares of strangers, as I recounted the time I was detained at O'Hare. I took a painful episode and healed myself through comedy, a la the old adage "comedy equals tragedy plus time."
The class got me on stage and gave me a new direction, but was only a start. I found unlikely mentors in the grown-up "theater nerds" that I would never come across in my philosophy and science classes. They inspired me to write daily and tackle politics head-on. One mentor called daily topical joke writing "push-ups." I wrote every day and navigated the almost exclusively straight white male world of stand-up comedy by going to several open mics a week.
That's where I met the comics that I would work with on Simmer Brown, a diverse political comedy collective. The vision of what it could be was so clear to me: a show not just for South Asians or people of color, but one that brought together all people. The first Simmer Brown show drew a standing-room only crowd as diverse as the lineup and eager for smart political commentary versus the typical comedy fare. The show continued to grow and sell out and garnered rave reviews. The vision I had for Simmer Brown was the same I had for myself: leadership, community, power, and creativity. Like I did during my first time on stage, I mined my grief and outrage at injustice in the world for laughs. People would thank me for saying what they were thinking. They felt so misunderstood that coming to a comedy show made them feel like they weren't alone.
Less than 3 years after that first performance, the Chicago Reader named me one of the best of Chicago comedy for creating "a platform to discuss issues of race and gender along with the quandaries of everyday life" and "using [my] comedy to speak candidly, with wit and gravitas" about injustice. I created a community of compassion and connection, simply by being myself and sharing my story. It is this level of authenticity and relatedness that I would bring to Congress and that is missing in our elected officials. Its presence would transform not only our legislative bodies, but our country as well.
If you are an incumbent, tell us the most significant accomplishment of your current term.